I grew up in Carpinteria and would often gaze out at the Channel Islands, wondering what was out there and what they were really like. My father, Campbell Grant was an archaeologist, artist and historian and had been to Santa Cruz Island many times gathering facts for his books on Indian art and culture. He told me a lot stories about the islands, including flying to Santa Cruz with the then owner of the island, Carey Stanton. I never got to go with him, but reveled at the notion of seeing first-hand what was out there. In 1974, my cousin Oliver Andrews, first son of “Floppy” Hyde, introduced me to SCUBA diving at Anacapa Island.
Smitten with the beauty both above and below the water, I have been an avid SCUBA diver since. Over the next 30 years, I have visited and dove most of the Channel Islands, and even got to spend a week on remote San Nicholas with Channel Islands Restoration reestablishing indigenous plants. When someone asked if I had been to all eight Channel Islands, I decided to put the three-most distant ones that I hadn’t yet visited on my “bucket list.”
I have a 22-foot Bayliner Classic Cruiser power boat named “Indian Summer.” Very seaworthy, the boat could probably take a six-foot breaking wave over the bow. She cruises at 20 to 26 knots, sleeps four and is very comfortable on extended island trips. I have owned “Indian Summer” for about 10 years and have traversed the channel a dozen times on dive trips. One day this summer, my artist friend and fellow Carpinterian Thomas Van Stein asked if I thought it was possible to find the Cabrillo monument on San Miguel Island, which started my quest for all eight islands, 45-years after I first set foot on Anacapa.
Calculating the fuel consumption and capacity of “Indian Summer,” I studied the charts and determined that San Miguel Island—the northwestern-most of all the Channel Islands—was within reach. On July 6, Thomas and I launched from Santa Barbara Harbor and were soon greeted by a Grey Whale displaying its tail fin in dramatic fashion as it sounded to the deep. A large pod of dolphins crashed the party too. After about two-and-a-half hours we dropped anchor in Cuyler Harbor. I launched the inflatable and Thomas and I went ashore in search of the Cabrillo Monument.
A half-mile hike brought us to the top of a bluff overlooking the spectacular sand dunes of Cuyler Harbor. We found the monument, and returning to the boat we passed elephant seals basking on the beach in the distance. Thomas fixed us dinner, and I poured us both a glass of wine to celebrate. The following day we motored back to Santa Barbara. That trip marked six islands down, leaving two to go.
Less than a month later, on Aug. 2, I launched “Indian Summer” from Ventura Harbor for a solo voyage to Santa Barbara Island. I had purchased an offshore harness with a self-inflating flotation device, a tether that I attached to the boat and a personal locator beam that can send a distress call via satellite. Fortunately, I never had to use it and with a little luck, I probably never will. The forecast was for light winds but the morning fog was thick, with less than a mile of visibility. A weather app indicated that the fog was cleared up a couple of miles out, so I motored seaward until the visibility improved before plotting a new course to Santa Barbara Island, 48 nautical miles off.
All that stands on lonely Santa Barbara are a building high on a bluff and some other structures closer to the water. There is no dock or easy means to disembark, so I circumnavigated the island looking for a suitable landing, but none exists as the island is surrounded by a rocky, craggy shoreline and cliffs. Eventually, I braved the sketchy landing at the structure, asking permission from the resident harbor seals. They obliged and I made my way up to the visitor center where I signed my name in the ledger. After snapping a few photos from atop the bluff, I returned to “Indian Summer” and set a course for Two Harbors on Catalina Island.
Arriving at about 4 p.m., I took on 41 gallons of fuel with a sense of relief that my calculations were accurate. The main-tank capacity on “Indian Summer” is 55 gallons, and there is a 15-gallon reserve tank. I paid for a mooring buoy, then rowed the inflatable ashore where I met a couple from Newport Beach who invited me to join them for dinner. After dinner, a bit exhausted from the trip, I rowed back to “Indian Summer,” happy that I had gotten island number seven behind me.
I hauled the inflatable aboard the next morning, then rounded the corner of Catalina and set a course for San Clemente Island. I had researched the Navy-controlled island to determine what my chances were of getting there without being arrested or shot. About 90 percent of the coastline is listed as “restricted,” but several miles of the westside, mid-island, were listed as “available, no scheduled operations.” This didn’t mean that it was open to the public, only that fisherman could approach within three miles and I figured this was my best chance.
Approaching the island from the north, I skirted the west side and turned shoreward after about 15 miles when I noticed that the airfield tower on the island was out of view. I was hoping for a beach with no waves where I could nose “Indian Summer” ashore while I put my toes in the sand and took a few selfies. No such luck—when I got within 100 yards, I realized that the entire coast was rocky and forbidding. Knowing that the Navy could show up at any minute and that I had traveled so far to accomplish my goal, I dropped anchor, tossed the inflatable overboard and rowed like a man possessed towards the island. When my bare feet hit the rocky shore, I smiled with the realization that I had done it—I had now visited all eight Channel Islands.
But there was no time for getting emotional. I took a few photos, then pushed the inflatable off between waves and rowed out with the same fervor I had rowing in. Once on board “Indian Summer,” I throttled up and bolted out to the three-mile boundary, clear of United States Navy territory. I then plotted a course for Avalon on Catalina. As before, I got fuel, secured a mooring buoy and rowed ashore for food and a drink. The following morning, I pulled out of Avalon and headed back to Two Harbors where I had breakfast with my Newport Beach friends who I had met the day before.
After breakfast, I set a course for King Harbor, Redondo Beach, where I refueled before heading up the coast, stopping at Paradise Cove for lunch. I then cruised the point admiring all the fabulous homes that line the beach and can only be seen from the ocean. As the day grew late and the fog rolled in, I ended my epic adventure as I had started it: in low visibility at Ventura Harbor. Marla Daily of the Santa Cruz Island Foundation invited me to join the “All Eight Club,” said to be the most-exclusive geographic club in the world, with a membership in the low 200s—a mere tenth of the number of people who belong to the lauded “Seven Summits Club.” I was grateful for the invitation and honored to accept.